Save on Back-to-School Spending: College Edition
In the not-so-far future, in the unloading area of college dormitories all across America, cars and SUVs will be disgorging skyscrapers of stuff: bed-in-a-bags, floor lamps, microwaves and cube refrigerators, computer laptops in leather carrying cases and more than a few flat screen TV sets. But what do you really need? And how can you make college spending dollars stretch? Our mother and son blogging team have some advice.Do You Really Need That?<BR>A Mom & Son's Advice
Beth Weschler ("mom"), a social worker, and Zac Bissonnette ("son"), who will be a junior at UMass Amherst this fall, have come up with some rules for college shopping -- what's worth it and what's not. Click through our gallery for a "she says/he says" look.
First Up: Housing
Mom says: Coordinate purchases so that you don't duplicate. You don't need two microwaves, two irons or individual spray bottles of WIndex. It isn't too soon to start thinking about how you can beat housing costs next year. Nursing students can often find free room and board with a senior citizen and other students may be able to find live-in arrangements in exchange for childcare or handyman hours.Housing
Son says: For my money, living on campus is one of the biggest rip-offs that students will encounter during their college years. The biggest savings from living off-campus come from not being subjected to the outrageously overpriced cafeteria food that is stinking up dining halls around the country and making students and their families broke in the process. If your child is living off-campus with friends, invest $10.17 in a copy of 'The Healthy College Cookbook.'
Mom says: If your student has an unlimited meal plan on campus then he will probably still need a refrigerator, although maybe not a microwave. With more limited plans, keeping basic breakfast foods, light meals and snacks in the room can save serious money. It actually isn't unusual for students living away from home for the first time to put on weight. Stocking healthy foods can make a difference. Nutrisystem foods don't require refrigeration and can be purchased on eBay.Food
Son says: The best way to save money on food in a dorm is to make sure that you have microwaveable, reusable bowls, plates, and cups. You shouldn't have to spend more than about $8 equipping a dorm room with dinnerware. What food belongs in a dorm room? A good rule is not to buy anything that comes in individually wrapped servings. These are a complete rip-off!
Next: Electronic Gear
Mom says: Virtually every student should have a computer (and I think a printer -- but Zac disagrees) but unless their major -- or special needs- - makes it necessary, the computer doesn't have to be state-of-the-art , a designer color or even a laptop. The most important piece of gear you need: an alarm clock.Electronic Gear
Son says: I know a lot of people who've brought printers to college, and I know very few people who use them. In my experience, it's much easier to do all your printing at the library. Reasonable price for a laptop: $300. Unless your student is studying computer animation, I really don't see any reason to spend more money than that. When it comes to a television, a small extra television from home should do just fine. Dorm rooms are too small to sit far away enough from the television for a large screen to be healthy for your eyes.
Mom says: If you play a musical instrument or practice any other art or craft, bring it to college. That should be enough entertainment for your dollar!Entertainment
Son says: Retailers that advertise video games as part of their back-to-school sales should be ashamed of themselves. Video games in college? Shut up! One of the great things about college is all the free entertainment that is available.
Next: Clothes & Personal Supplies
Mom says: Unless your circumstances are unusual, 95% of the time, college students wear jeans, tees, sneakers, sweatshirts and sweat pants. But you do not need 12 pairs of jeans or 22 shirts. New underwear -- sure. Be aware that shaving costs can add up. Can you do with electric? If so, the Norelco All-in-One electric can be picked up for $15. And be prepared for the common cold, cramps, headaches, paper cuts and the like by putting together your own kit.Clothes & Personal Supplies
Son says: Many college towns have a store called Plato's Closet. This store is awesome! You can get Abercrombie t-shirts for $10.
Next: Books & School Supplies
Mom says: Your school logo is great but if you buy all your notebooks at the college store, you'll spend ten times more than you need to. Watch the office supply store flyers. Loss leaders -- $1 each -- often include pens, highlighters and white out. Spiral notebooks, loose leaf binders and paper will be on sale late July to early August.Books & School Supplies
Son says: Textbooks can easily tack on an addition 10% to 20% of the cost of attendance -- so minimizing this expense is extremely important. Here are a few tips: Don't buy your textbooks before the first day of class; Ask if having an old edition of the book will work; Consider renting books; Never, ever, ever buy your textbooks new.
Next: House Supplies
Mom says: If you have a comforter or blankets (and you probably do!), you can spruce it up with new sheets and throw pillows. For cleaning supplies, start at any dollar store. Bring laundry detergent, but if you live in the dorm, you'll be unhappy with lugging around the 128 ounce bottle. A purchase that will let you pull things into, out of and around the dorm is the Expanding Folding Crate with wheels.House Supplies
Son says: Picking up a few moderately-priced throw pillows at Target or Pier 1 Imports can really help pull a room together. And for art, please, please, please do not buy posters at the mall or the school store. You will end up with the same posters as everyone else! If I walk into a dorm and see one more Abbey Road poster, I'm going to burn it. Instead, check out the clearance section at AllPosters.com, and watch for all the special sales and free shipping deals. Vintage art deco-style travel posters look really cool in a dorm room.
Mom says: Buy a bicycle and helmet. And if you absolutely need a car, see whether your college has the Zip-car program.Transportation
Son says: For freshman who are living on-campus, a car is not necessary or even desirable. For older students living off-campus, it may be worth having -- especially if it allows the student to work at a higher-paying off-campus job on nights and weekends. But if your student is heading off to college for the first time, leave the car at home.
Next: Phone/Cell Phone
Mom says: There are fewer and fewer land lines and most students today rely on cell phones. It is ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL that your student's cell phone plan has: family talk, or something similar, more minutes than you think they will need, unlimited text messages.Phone/Cell Phone
Son says: Make your kid pay his own darn cell phone bill, that's what I say. And see if you can talk him into paying yours too. He owes you big time!
Mom says: Vacations???Vacations
Son says: I would rather see a student work hard during the summer and spring breaks so that he can save money to help pay for college and avoid student loans. For all the talk about how spring break trips and "service learning" can change student's lives, there are plenty of experiences to be had and lives to be changed right in your hometown. Help an underprivileged child learn to read at the local library, volunteer at a soup kitchen, spend time with senior citizens -- and still leave time to work for pay so that you can pay the aforementioned cell phone bill of your parents.